Recording Academy Denies Grammy Nomination Voting Is ‘Corrupt,’ Calls Process ‘Fair and Ethical’

Ousted CEO Deborah Dugan accused the organization of “incidents of conflict of interest that taint the results”

Last Updated: January 24, 2020 @ 8:49 AM

Following ousted National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences CEO Deborah Dugan’s claims that the Grammy Awards voting process is “ripe with corruption” and conflicts of interest, the Recording Academy issued a statement Thursday defending its nomination practices as “fair and ethical.”

“It is the goal of the Recording Academy to ensure the Grammy Awards process is led in a fair and ethical manner and that voting members make their choices based solely on the artistic excellence and technical merits of eligible recordings,” Recording Academy’s chief awards officer Bill Freimuth said in a statement to TheWrap. “Spurious allegations claiming members or committees use our process to push forward nominations for artists they have relationships with are categorically false, misleading and wrong. This process is strictly enforced with everyone involved and has no exceptions.”

During an interview with “Good Morning America” on Thursday, Dugan detailed her criticism of the integrity of the Grammys themselves, saying she found specific cases where the nominations process had been tainted. “The system should be transparent and there are incidents of conflict of interest that taint the results,” she said.

Dugan said that Ed Sheeran and Ariana Grande missed out on a Song of the Year nomination for the 2020 awards show because another artist — who did get a nomination — sat on the committee’s nominating category and is represented by a board member of the Recording Academy, a claim she first made in a discrimination complaint she filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Tuesday. But she declined to name the artist on “GMA.”

“For the artist’s privacy and for the integrity of all those artists who are going to perform and get nominations this year, I don’t want to say, but it’s not even just that one room,” she said, adding that she has “evidence” of other voting irregularities in the Grammy nominations process, specifically in the jazz category. “It’s very serious and I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think I could make a difference,” she said.

In his statement, Freimuth maintained: “There are strict rules in place to address any conflict of interest. Should a committee member qualify for a Grammy, they are required to leave the room for the entire listening session and are NOT allowed to vote in that category. Committee members do not know the ranking of any entry and the voting is by secret ballot.” He did not address whether these rules had ever been violated, either last year or in previous years.

Dugan issued a response to Freimuth’s statement Thursday afternoon via her lawyers, saying that it confirms her concerns.

“There is absolutely no excuse for any individual with an interest in the outcome of a particular nomination decision to be on the committee that votes on that nomination decision,” Dugan’s response said. “The fact that the interested party may leave the room for a period does next to nothing to lessen the taint. It is inconceivable that the Grammys allows any interested party in the room at any time. Why not just take those particular people off of the committee if there turns out to be a conflictg of interest. Or, better yet, choose the committee members after knowing who the potential nominees are. This would be an extremely easy issue to fix, and the fact that it has not been fixed begs the question as to why. The Academy’s explanation makes no sense.”

Dugan, who also appeared on “CBS This Morning” Thursday, said she sent a detailed email to human resources on Dec. 22, 2019, outlining many instances of what she called corruption and misconduct at the organization that hands out the Grammy Awards — refuting a claim by the Recording Academy that she only complained after she was ousted from the organization.

Last week, Dugan abruptly resigned after she was placed on administrative leave by the Academy’s executive committee, just days before the 2020 Grammys, which take place this Sunday.

Interim Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr. revealed in a letter sent to membership Monday that Dugan was being investigated following accusations of misconduct made by a staff member who accused her of creating a “toxic and intolerable” and “abusive and bullying” environment toward her staff.

In the EEOC complaint filed by Dugan’s attorneys Douglas Wigdor and Michael Willemin on Tuesday, she accused the Recording Academy of voting irregularities, financial mismanagement and other conflicts of interest involving the Academy’s board members.

That filing also included Dugan’s claims that Joel Katz, the general counsel for the Recording Academy, had sexually harassed her in a private meeting last year, and that she had been informed an accusation of rape was made against Portnow. Both Portnow and Katz have denied these accusations.

Read the Recording Academy’s full statement below.

It is the goal of the Recording Academy to ensure the GRAMMY Awards process is led in a fair and ethical manner and that voting members make their choices based solely on the artistic excellence and technical merits of eligible recordings,” Recording Academy’s chief awards officer Bill Freimuth said in a statement to TheWrap Thursday. “Spurious allegations claiming members or committees use our process to push forward nominations for artists they have relationships with are categorically false, misleading and wrong. This process is strictly enforced with everyone involved and has no exceptions. A detailed overview of the full voting process can be found on our website here: https://www.grammy.com/grammys/awards/voting-process.

The Nomination Review Committees are made up of a diverse group of current and relevant music creators with a high level of expertise in their respective genres. These committee members are all Voting Members. Committees are built by the Chair in consultation with the President/CEO and Chief Awards Officer using names submitted by all Academy Chapters. Many are Trustees. They are chosen weeks before the 1st round entry list is created so it is unknown whether any of the approved members will have been involved in a potential nomination. Because these committee members are at the top of their craft, and many members work with multiple artists, it is not unusual that some of the people in each room will end up with nominations from the first round. There are strict rules in place to address any conflict of interest. Should a committee member qualify for a GRAMMY, they are required to leave the room for the entire listening session and are NOT allowed to vote in that category. Committee members do not know the ranking of any entry and the voting is by secret ballot. The committees are not confidential, but the committee members’ names are for the obvious reason of preventing lobbying from outside parties, therefore further protecting the integrity of the voting process. Everything relating to the nomination and voting processes is set up with the intention of protecting the integrity of the awards in order to recognize and celebrate artists’ excellence.

We remain fully committed to the integrity, transparency and robustness of the awards and look forward with excitement to celebrating the artists who deservingly receive them. We are acutely aware that many artists have worked a lifetime for this moment at music’s biggest night and it is them we want to focus on when we celebrate this weekend.

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